Monthly Archives: May 2016

Basic Critical Theory for Photographers

Basic_Critical_Theory_for_Photographers

This is a must have book for any degree student for photography!  Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange, published by Focal Press.

This book debunks the sometimes baffling academic language from the likes of Barthes and Sontage and summarises the message that authors like these are trying to put across to the poor half comatose reader with assignments to help the student explore these theories more thoroughly.

The books covered: John Berger’s Way of Seeing; John Szarkowski’s The Photographers Eye; Stephen Shore’s, The Nature of Photographs; Susan Sontage’s On Photography; Roland Barthes’, Camera Lucida; Martin Rosler’s essay, ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts’; Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s essay, ‘Inside/Out’; Clive Scott’s The Spoken Image: Photography and Language; Andy Grundberg, The Crisis of the Real; Raghubir Singh’s River of Colour; Bertand Russell’s Appearance and Reality; Iatalo Calvino’s The Adventures of a Photographer; Poems by Felix Morrisseau-Leroy and George Szirtes.

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Art Photography Now

Art Photography Now

I have just finished reading Art Photography Now by Susan Bright.  Book cover image by Viviane Sassen.  Published by Thames & Hudson.

This book illustrates and discusses the work of the currently generation of established Artists in photography.  Bright has divided her book in to different photographic genres: Portrait, Landscape, Narrative, Object, Fashion, Documentary, City.  With examples of work from Artists who are particularly known for a specific genre for example: Martin Parr – Documentary, Corrine Day – Fashion, Gillian Wearing – Portraiture.

An interesting read and a book to keep on the shelf for reference.  Some styles I had not seen before which I liked for example: Katy Grannan – Portrait; Rochard Misrach Andreas Gursky Dan Holdsworth and Doug Aitken – Landscape; Hannah Starkey, Bill Hensen and Jeff Wall – Narrative; Camille Vivier, Jonathan Villiers – Fashion; Erwin Wurm, Allan Sekula – Document; Naoya Hatakeyama, Richard Wentworth, Paul Graham, Philip-Lorca Dicorcia, Rut Blees Luxemburg.

I like Vivian Sassen’s portraiture style, I like her photo used for the book cover, this photo has the added punctum of the golden hand.

Strange and Familiar and The Unseen City

This linked photo is by Cas Oorthuys, titled ‘Black Oxford Students, Oxford, 1962’.  From the Strange and Familiar website exhibition at the Barbican.

Yesterday I visited two exhibitions currently being held in London curated by Martin Parr. The first exhibition that I visited was displayed in The Barbican and was called Strange and Familiar.  This was on two floors and exhibited the work of over twenty photographers who had visited the UK and photographed the British people as they saw them.  These images covered a period from the 1930’s up to present day and looked at British life different angles of social and political points of view.

The Artist’s work on display:

Edith Tudor-Hart, coming to England in the 1930’s a devote Communist she took an interest in the social and political life of the English contrasting the haves and have-nots in her photographs.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cartier-Bresson first came to England to photograph for the Coronation of George VI and later for the Queen’s Silver-Jubilee and captured images of the British and their relationships with the monarchy.

Robert Frank, visited England in the early 1950’s before his famous ‘The Americans’ project and spent some time in London observing the life of the City and the world of the Bankers and then travelled to Wales and stayed amongst the Welsh mining community of Caerau where he felt more at home at photographed their daily-lives, visiting the coal-face as well as seeing their social-life.  Frank was made to feel more at home in the Welsh community than he did in the City and his photographs reflect this in his views on London as seen as an outsider and his views of his Welsh hosts that have invited him in to their homes and their community and his images reflect that of a view from an insider.

Paul Strand visited the UK in the 1950’s and spent sometime living with crofters in the Outer-Hebrides of Scotland and like Frank was able to take photos from the privileged viewpoint of an insider.  Strand’s particular interest and theme to many of his photographs during this project is texture, shapes and patterns.

Cas Oorthuys visited the UK in the 1950’s and photographed the daily-life of austerity for the English and including photos of the first Caribbean immigrants to England and his photographs of Black Afro-Caribbean students at Oxford reflecting the cultural diversity that was developing in the UK during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Sergio Larrain Visited England in the 1950’s in these images I notice his use of design, lines, angels, patterns frames within frames and reflections.

Gilles Peress, visited the UK in the 1970’s and photographed the troubles in Northern-Ireland.  Working in black-and-white he records the Orange marches, street scenes aftermath of riots and murders with a compositional consideration to design, and texture.  His images contrasted from the violence and misery of the working-class Northern Irish to the ordered and gentile life the privileged playing cricket or fox-hunting.  My favorite image amongst Peress’ work was a picture of a child being slapped by her mother with the TV in the background with a shocked looking child staring open-mouthed from the screen.  Peress used a slow enough shutter speed to provide motion–blur for the mother and child whilst fast enough to have a sharp background.

Akihiko Okamura is a Japanese artist who visited the UK in the late 1960’s early 70’s and recorded his time in Northern-Ireland in colour photographs surreal images of ladies preparing tea and biscuits in the middle of a street with burned-out houses in the background and shrines made to victims of the riots.

Garry Winogrand came to the UK in the 1960’s and recorded the London street scene of the ‘swinging 60s’

Candida Hofer like Winogrand Hofer came to England in the 1960’s and spent time in Liverpool recording the street scenes of Liverpool’s 60s era.

Evelyn Hofer used a large format camera to slow the process down and take photos of people and place in 1960’s London.

Bruce Davidson An American photographer who visited England in the 1960’s taking street photography in London and Wales with an interest in the poor and destitute.

Gian Butturini Butturini is also know as a film director but in the 1960’s Butturini photographed the London scene from street to Rock concert and contrasted with the political troubles in Northern-Ireland.

Frank Habicht Habicht’s images are of the young ‘hip’ London scene of the late 60’s.

Hans Eijkelboom visited the Bullring in Birmingham and with a concealed camera photographed people as the passed by him at the centres main entrance.  He has studied how people dress alike and how he has been able to catagorize people by their clothes.  For example he grouped images of people wearing the same or similar garments such as striped or spotted dresses, flowery beach style shirts, Adidas advertising T-shirts, boob tube tops, etc.  He cleverly transitioned one category to another by selecting couples that were dressed in the two categories he was switching from and to this must have been produced over a long period of time.  This project questioned peoples sense of individualism as clearly a large percentage of people dress alike; so perhaps as not to stand out and lacking of imagination.  Many looked like they were mimicking the manikins in shops or copying the models in the lower end clothes catalogues.

Bruce Gilden using a wide angled lens and cropping tightly Gilden has produced some strong unflattering portraits of people living on the streets or down on their luck that he has come across on the streets of Glasgow.  The wide angle lenses have almost caricatured them by lengthening their faces and ugly-fying them.

Hans Van-Der-Meer is a Dutch photographer who came to England and was influenced by the old Dutch landscape masters and used their style in his choice of viewpoints when photographing British amateur football matches by making use of the large space with the players small in the frame.

Raymond Depardon worked in Glasgow around the early 1980s photographing a declining city as the factories closed.  These pictures in colour capture this depressing period in Britain’s history.

Rineke Dijkstra has used a large format camera.

Tina Barney again using a large format camera she has taken portraits in the style of the old master painters.

Axell Hutte visited London and took an interest in the architecture of the post war social housing developments, many of which have declined and since been re-developed.

Jim Dow an American photographer who spent some time in England in the early 1990s Dow took an interest in British small shops as seen from both inside and out.  Many of these shops were already in decline when he was photographing them and as this decline continues these images are fast becoming things of nostalgia.

Shinro Ohtake captured images of Britain in the year of the queens Silver-Jubilee of 1977 with some interesting views of the British as seen from an outsider.

This linked image is by Martin Parr from his collection of photographs of the unseen city.

The Unseen City photographed by Martin Parr http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160301-unseen-city-martin-parr-reveals-the-square-miles-secrets

The second exhibition was displayed at the Guildhall Art Gallery and was called The Unseen City, photos taken my Martin Parr of events involving the Guildhall such as The Lord Mayor’s Show.  These colour images offered an exclusive behind the scenes view of the prestigious events that annually take place at the Guildhall.  Parr captured candid shots of the organizers, patrons and staff as they went about their preparation and participation of events such as the swan upping and Lord Major’s show, the unseen side of these public and exclusive events.  I thought that these images were a good representation of a viewpoint seen from an outsider, an invited guest, whom, finding the whole scenario strange sees much more than his hosts and captures it in his camera.

I found the two exhibitions complemented each-other as their underlining theme was what is British-ness?  This second exhibition contrasted to the first as this showed a hidden side to the British that is usually closed to both photographers and most of the British.  A Britain representing the world of the elite and privileged ruling-class, this is an unelected class, Bankers and Lords that quietly work behind the scenes of British Politics and who ultimately pull the strings.

 

 

Rineke Dijksta


Photos by Rineka Dijsta. This linked image is available to view on line :http://lounge.obviousmag.org

Rineke Dijksta has explored an interesting idea of portraiture by photographing young people as when the began their National Service in the Israeli armed services and re-photographed them about a year later when they have returned to civilian life.  The purpose is to explore how experiences and environments change us and how this is reflected in the way we look.  Interestingly, Dijksta noticed that her subjects often looked younger when they came out of the service than when they started.  This I find fascinating.

one month1

Photos by Maria Kapajeva from her project ‘One Month’ available to view on line: http://www.mariakapajeva.com/one-month/

I notice that Maria Kapajeva has also explored this form of portraiture in her project ‘One Month’ http://www.mariakapajeva.com/one-month/ when she photographed her fellow travellers to India taking their portraits on their first day and again on their last and juxtaposing the two images to compare how the individual had altered after their stay.

Exercise-Project-2-Masquerades-Childhood memories

In this exercise I have created an image to represent a childhood memory.  I have based the idea of this project on Roland Barthes theory of mythology.  It struck me that our memories are a form of myth.  Our memories are never quite as they really were.  We recall through rose-tinted-glasses, our childish imaginings were myths both good and bad. My memory is of being scared of the dark as a child, particularly after having watched a scary episode of Dr. Who.  I was most scared of the Cyber-men and I recall dreaming of being chased and caught by the Cyber-men, I would hide under the bedclothes and peek out and being afraid of the shadows.  The myths of the Bogieman, monsters, ghosts and goblins haunted my dreams and imaginings to such an extent that as a very young child I could not go to sleep unless a light was left on in my room.

Resized-0391

D-800e, 24-120 f/4 @24mm, 1/125, f/11, ISO-6400, WB-Auto.  One remote speedlight operated via Pocket Wizard, converted to grey-scale in Lightroom and cropped.

I planned this idea out first on paper, putting my thoughts down which helped me quickly find an idea.  My thoughts initially were the usual happy memories of sunshine and ice-cream; but as I considered the theme of myth and I considered the darker side of childhood fancies.  The final product was converted to black-and-white as I felt that this made the image more dark and sinister, I also was not concerned about high ISO for this image because the grainier the image appears the better to imply a memory.

Exercise-Project-1-The Language of Photography

Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1974.  Titled, ‘Dog legs’ This linked image is from: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk

At first glance the joke in this picture can be easily missed, simply a small ‘cute’ dog on a lead with it’s owners in a park.  The image has been taken at a very low angle from the level of the small dog cutting off the rest of the owners bodies from the frame.  But a second look and something is wrong with the two pairs of legs.  The nearest (probably) the dog’s mistress in her high length boots and now we notice the second pair of legs belong to another dog that appears to be only standing on it’s hind legs like a man.  (In fact with very close scrutiny you can work out that these are a tall dog’s front legs and the dog is standing diagonally to the photographer with it’s belly and hind legs cropped from the frame.) The subjects are positioned approximately one-quarter of the way up the frame with the cute dog to the right looking in to the lens; so drawing the viewer’s eye away from the left side of the picture.  The small dog is what Roland Barthes would call the ‘punctum’ in the image. The mistress stands in the middle and our eyes naturally glance at the boots which we expect to see the second pair of legs take third place in our visual priority and so don’t stand out until we take a closer look at the picture.  The image is also in black-and-white this also helps with the deception.  If it had been in colour I am sure the tan fur legs would have appeared more obviously in the image and the joke would have been weaker.  Erwitt had used a structure of vertical lines in this image which has an element of design. The image is backlit which makes his subjects stand out from the background.  The composition draws the eyes from the bottom of the picture through these vertical lines to the top.  The placement of the tall dog’s legs next to the lady’s boots looks natural, as if two people were standing posing before the photographer with their dog.  The depth-of-field is kept fairly shallow to keep the eyes from looking deeper in to the background that is unimportant.

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

Camera_Lucida

I have just finished reading this book ‘Camera Lucida’ by Roland Barthes.  I found this book a lot easier to read than ‘Mythologies’ but didn’t find it very interesting or useful in terms of ideas or methods of thought.  To be honest, I personally would categorize this book along with the wardrobe of the Emperors new clothes.  All about nothing, intellectually trendy twaddle or how to fill a book about absolutely nothing.  Not a book that I would recommend.

The one thing that I got but didn’t fully realize until now is his idea of studium and punctum that I first understood but then half forgot it after reading on and it then got buried under all the theory that he lays on top of it.  I spent so much time trying to decipher what he was saying I lost the thread.  Fortunately, a fellow student had just posted a link to a good video explaining this theory from Barthes book which has brought the idea back from the depths of my confusion.  https://phlearn.com/punctum-better-image

Maybe I am just an ignorant retch in the eyes of a true academic but why oh why say so much with so much unnecessary thesaurus fuelled language when it could be much more easily explained and summed up?   I found I needed a dictionary for practically every paragraph of this book for words I have never seen before and it even defeated by Oxford dictionary from time to time!  Maybe I needed Latin, Ancient Greek and French.